De-escalation training is nothing new for police
The recent News editorial, “Training made the difference,” commends the performance of Toronto Police Officer Ken Lam for the successful arrest of the rental van murderer. In these days where it’s fashionable to critique and second guess everything the police do, it’s good to see a police officer commended for doing his job well.
But the editorial is incorrect in attributing his conduct solely to his recently completed “de-escalation training,” the latest in-vogue answer for those who think the police need more training on every subject because they do everything wrong.
Veteran law enforcement officers saw instead common and basic techniques that police have always used. They are the result of experience and simple good judgment, not the sole result of a one-day training course.
Although the public might not realize it, police officers have always employed de-escalation techniques where and when the situation warrants. When arriving at the scene of a tense domestic, the parties are routinely separated, told to calm down and their stories are patiently listened to. That’s de-escalation.
When arriving at the scene of a street disturbance, police might give the sober friend of the troublemaker a chance to remove him from the scene before arresting him. That’s de-escalation. Whenever officers use discretion to mediate when they might arrest, that is de-escalation.
Experienced officers also know that de-escalation is not always called for. Sometimes situations need to be swiftly and effectively ended to avoid injury and ensure public peace. They know that sometimes the criminal element mistakes de-escalation for weakness and uncertainty. When that happens, physical force might be necessary when it wouldn’t have if the officer was verbally forceful and commanding in the first place. Experience teaches this, not the classroom.